Play Hard, Play Safe

No more excuses. It's time to hit the ground running and dive back into your favorite sports and exercise routine - right? Not so fast, says James Ellis, D.O., member of the medical staff, Baylor Medical Center at Waxahachie.

"If you've been inactive over a few months, you need to rebuild a solid base of fitness," he said.  "You have to remember it's a gradual process to get to your goal."

Walking, swimming and time on an exercise bike are good ways to loosen and build up your muscles, as well as increase your stamina, as you return to sports, according to Dr. Ellis.

Your Best Offense

While organized sports and exercise can be fun and healthy, they can also be dangerous. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) an estimated 4.3 million nonfatal sports- and recreation-related injuries were treated in U.S. hospital emergency departments from July 2000 to June 2001.

To prevent most sports injuries, your best offense is a good defense:

  • Wear proper protective gear, such as helmets, shin guards, pads or mouth guards.
  • Warm up before and after you exercise with some stretching and brisk walking or slow jogging. This will make your body's tissues warmer and more flexible.
  • Wear sunscreen if you will be outdoors.
  • Know and follow the rules of your sport.
  • Stay properly hydrated. Drink water before, during and after exercise. Be proactive: if you wait until you are thirsty to drink water, you are already well on your way to being dehydrated.

Treating an Injury

Sports injuries can range from a simple strain that can be treated at home to a dislocation that requires a trip to the emergency room. Consider the following for your best course of treatment:

Sprains and strains - Treat the injury with rest, ice, compression (for example with an ACE® bandage) and elevation. Take an anti-inflammatory as well. If you are not getting better after three or four days, see your family practitioner. Also, watch out for reinjuries. "Athletes might feel OK when they are at work during the week, but then they go out on the weekend and re-injure themselves because they've never given themselves time to heal," said Dr. Ellis.

Dislocation - A dislocation, whether of a finger, shoulder or hip, is considered an orthopedic emergency, according to Dr. Ellis. "You need to go to an emergency room in the case of a dislocation because the longer a joint is out of place, the more damage that can be done."

Concussion - The CDC estimates that 135,000 sports- and recreation-related traumatic brain injuries, including concussions, are treated in U.S. emergency departments every year. A bump, blow or jolt to the head can cause a concussion. Concussions can also occur from a blow to the body that causes the head to move rapidly back and forth. Signs of a concussion include disorientation, nausea, blurred vision, brief loss of consciousness and headache. "If there is any question as to whether you or your child has a concussion, you need to visit your family practice doctor immediately or head to the emergency room if it is after office hours," said Dr. Ellis.

Heat stroke - The most serious heat-related disorder, heat stroke occurs when the body becomes unable to control its temperature: the body's temperature rises rapidly, the sweating mechanism fails, and the body is unable to cool down. If you or your child are experiencing symptoms of heat stroke, which include hot, dry skin (no sweating), chills, throbbing headache, confusion or slurred speech, immediately go to an emergency room.

Challenges for the Aging Athlete

Sports- and exercise-related injuries can be a special concern for older athletes. As a person ages, they lose muscle and bone mass, and tendons and ligaments lose their elasticity and are more prone to wear and tear injuries.

"Higher impact sports are tougher on the joints, particularly the knees, for older athletes," said Dr. Ellis.

Exercises that are easier on the joints and may result in fewer injuries for older athletes include cycling, swimming and walking.

Aging athletes who want to continue to pursue high-impact activities can help prevent injuries through increased resistance or "strength" training. A study at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston, Mass., has shown that strength training can reverse muscle loss in the elderly.

Despite the potential risks, exercise is a key ingredient to good health. With the right precautions, you can enjoy the physical, social and emotional benefits of sports and exercise at any age.

"The main thing is to not be a couch potato," said Dr. Ellis. "Find a sport or fitness routine you enjoy, and go out and do it."

About Baylor Scott & White Health
As the largest not-for-profit health system in the state of Texas, Baylor Scott & White promotes the health and well-being of every individual, family and community it serves. It is committed to making quality care more accessible, convenient and affordable through its integrated delivery network, which includes the Baylor Scott & White Health Plan, Baylor Scott & White Research Institute, the Baylor Scott & White Quality Alliance and its leading digital health platform – MyBSWHealth. Through 51 hospitals and more than 1,200 access points, including flagship academic medical centers in Dallas, Fort Worth and Temple, the system offers the full continuum of care, from primary to award-winning specialty care. Founded as a Christian ministry of healing more than a century ago, Baylor Scott & White today serves more than three million Texans. For more information, visit: